Working with fonts is an everyday occurrence for designers. Working with good, new fonts can be tricky. Font websites throw around words like commercial use, personal use, open source – what does it all mean? It’s best to know what these words mean before you use a font. There are a lot of legalities around font usage, so it’s important to be well-informed in the world of fonts. So, we took our knowledge and research, and put it into a guide to font usage!

Difference Between a Font & Typeface

Did you know there is a difference between “font” and “typeface”? A font is actually a computer file or program that tells a printer how to display a letter or character. However, typeface is a set of letters, numbers and symbols. For instance, Helvetica is actually a typeface.

Copyright Law

Copyright is a type of legal protection for people who make original works. Under the 1976 Copyright Act, the owner of an original work has exclusive rights to distributed, reproduce, display, etc. the work. These rights can also be licensed, sold, or donated to other parties. One of our recent blog posts has more information on copyright laws.

Generally speaking, copyright law does NOT protect typefaces. However, fonts may qualify for legal protection as long as they also qualify as a computer software / program. Essentially, the law protects the font software, and not the art / design of the typeface.

Licensing Gives you…

Permission to use the font

If you’re purchasing a font, that does not mean you’re completely buying the font. You’re actually purchasing permission to use the font, subject to the license agreement terms, of course. This is typically called the End User License Agreement, or EULA, for short.

Indicates how / where to use the font

A license agreement will explain how you can and cannot use the font. If you use a font in a way that is not permitted by the license, you’re at risk for legal action. The agreement may also point out where you can or cannot use the font. Most of the common uses are desktop, web, commercial, and open source, which will be explained shortly.

How many people can use the font

Most license agreements put a limit on the number of people who can use the font – sometimes called “seats” or “workstations.” If you plan to exceed the limit, you most likely will have to purchase an additional license.

How many people can view the font

This limit is more common for web fonts. The license agreement will limit the number of page views, or, if used for an ad, digital ad views/impressions.

Different Types of Licensing

Desktop & Print

This is a standard font license that applies to the majority of the typefaces that already are programmed into your computer. It allows you to use the font on your computer and produce images/designs, mostly for print. This can apply to projects like t-shirts, posters, business cards, mugs, etc.


In the EULA, if your font is permitted for web purposes, you are allowed to utilize/embed the font in any web/digital projects. The name speaks for itself!